The Chicago Cubs’ turn-of-the-century, double-play combination of “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” has gone down in baseball lore. The third baseman on those teams, though, has been lost to history.
Harry Steinfeldt, who played third for the Cubs from 1906-1910, is overshadowed by his legendary infield mates, though he was a key component on some of the greatest teams in Chicago history. Sadly, he died at the age of 36 after his career crashed amid an ill-timed holdout and a nervous breakdown.
Born on Sept. 29, 1877 in St. Louis, Steinfeldt was the son of German immigrants who moved to Fort Worth, Texas, when Harry was 5 years old. Interestingly, he considered a career in theater as a young man, and toured the state of Texas with a minstrel show.
That unwittingly helped launch a pro baseball career, as he was discovered while playing baseball in one of the towns where the minstrel show performed. He split the 1895 and 1896 seasons with four minor league teams in Texas before he was picked up by Detroit of the Western League in 1897.
Steinfeldt was acquired by the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 1898 season and batted .295 in 88 games in a utility role. He followed with a .244 average in 107 games in 1899 before settling into a regular role in 1900, hitting .248 with 66 RBI in 136 games and splitting time between second and third.
Cincinnati manager Buck Ewing lauded Steinfeldt for throwing “better than anyone I ever saw. I don’t mean his terrific throwing, particularly, but…the ball is hardly in his hands before he has it sailing through the air.”
By 1902, his average had improved to .278, and he was playing third almost exclusively. Steinfeldt was even better in 1903, jumping to .312 with six home runs and 83 RBI while leading the National League in doubles with 32.
After a .271 season in 1905, he was traded to the Cubs, a move that prompted one reporter to write that the trade helped make “the Cubs the greatest baseball machine in the country.” It was not an idle boast. Over the next five years, Chicago captured four pennants and never won fewer than 99 games.
Those glory years were anchored by the double-play combo of shortstop Joe Tinker to second baseman Johnny Evers to first baseman Frank Chance, the Cubs’ player-manager from 1905-1912. Evers and Tinker would also become future Cubs managers. All three were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
Steinfeldt stepped into stardom in Chicago, hitting a career-high .327 in 1906 to finish second in the batting race while leading the league with 176 hits and 83 RBI.He also led the National League in fielding percentage among third basemen. The Cubs went 116-36 that season, only to lose to the crosstown White Sox in six games in the third-ever World Series.
In 1907, Steinfeldt again led the N.L. in fielding percentage for third basemen for a Cubs team that won 107 games and swept Detroit in the World Series. Steinfeldt batted a team-high .471 in the postseason.His performance earned him a three-year contract, but Steinfeldt’s stats began to slide.
Still, the Cubs kept rolling in 1908 with a 99-55 record and a five-game win over Detroit in the Series. They finished second despite 104 wins in 1909 and rebounded to capture another pennant in 1910 with another 104 wins. The Cubs fell to the Philadelphia Athletics in five games in the Series, and Steinfeldt struggled in particular, going 2-for-20 with four errors.
That season, “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” became a part of Americana in columnist Franklin Pierce Adams’ poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” which appeared in a New York newspaper on July 12, 1910.
Steinfeldt, though, would no longer be the “other guy” in the infield. During spring training in 1911, he held out for a new contract, apparently at his wife’s urging, and remained at home in Cincinnati, working for his father-in-law’s bread-pan company.
When Steinfeldt finally reported to Chicago, Chance was so pleased with the replacements at third that he was waived and sold to St. Paul of the American Association, the highest level of the minors.
Though he initially balked at the move, Steinfeldt later reported to St. Paul, who sold him to the Boston Rustlers (later the Braves) in May 1911. He appeared in 19 games in Boston before falling ill in July. His condition was later reported as a “complete nervous breakdown.”
In 1912, Steinfeldt was hired as manager of the Cincinnati team in the rival United States League, which quickly folded. A tryout with the Cardinals proved unsuccessful, and one observer wrote that Steinfeldt “then tried the minors, but his heart was broken, and he could not reconcile himself to Father Time’s claim.”
After being released by a string of minor league teams, Steinfeldt went home to Cincinnati, where he was apparently bedridden before his death on Aug. 17, 1914. The cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage.
TOM EMERY is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or email@example.com.